KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- The last glimmer of the legendary Hungarian team of the 1950s has been extinguished with the death of Jozsef Toth at the age of 88.
Jozsef, despite the assumptions of many, was not related to Golden Team-mate Mihaly Toth. Indeed, he and not Mihaly might have played in the dramatic 1954 World Cup Final against West Germany had he not been injured in a previous game.
Then who knows what might have happened?
Jozsef Toth was born on May 16, 1929, in Mersevat, a small town 150 miles west of Budapest. He was unusual in the national team squad in playing all his club football with Csepel Vasas, the modest club in the capital’s southern suburb which he joined joined aged 11.
Not for Toth the centralised Budapest giants Honved and/or MTK/Voros Lobogo [Red Banner].
Between 1948 and 1961 Toth, as both winger and inside forward, scored 78 goals in 296 games for the club with which he was national champion in in 1959.
Above all, he managed five goals in 12 appearances for the national team between 1953 and 1957 alongside all-time greats of the world game such as Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidgekuti and Zoltan Czibor.
Toth made his national team debut in a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria in Sofia on October 4, 1953, but then did not play again until the return against England in Budapest on May 23 the following year in the Nep stadium in Budapest.
Not only did Toth play at outside right in place of Laszlo Budai but, on the hour, he scored Hungary’s last goal in their 7-1 win. His place was already assured in the squad which manager Gusztav Seves took to Switzerland for the World Cup finals.
Here he not only won a second cap, in the 8-3 thrashing of a deliberately weakened West Germany in the group stage, but scored Hungary’s seventh goal again in the 75th minute.
One week later Toth played in the 4-2 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals in the notorious Battle of Bern which saw three expulsions and a pitched battle in the dressing rooms after the final whistle.
The match ended badly for Toth. He had been hurt early in the game and carried his injury throughout the match, in those days before substitutes. Budai returned on the right wing for the semi-final victory over Uruguay – labelled back then as The Greatest Match of All Time.
Thus he also sat out the shattering 3-2 defeat in the final against the Germans in the rain-swept Wandorf Stadium.
Sebes, still dissatisfied with Budai, had brought in Mihaly Toth on the left wing, switching Czibor to the right and restored barely-fit Puskas at inside left. Infamously, Hungary went 2-0 ahead and lost by 3-2 the one match they needed to win.
Subsequently Jozsef Toth played on eight further occasions for Hungary including the surprise 3-1 defeat by Turkey in Istanbul on February 19, 1956, one of the last games before the break-up sparked by the short-lived Hungarian Revolution.
Toth may have been temped to join some of his team-mates in their self-imposed exile but preferred to stay home. He played in a 0-0 draw against Sweden in Stockholm in June 1957 and then in a 4-1 win over Bulgaria in Budapest a week later. It was his last appearance.
A year later a weakened Hungary went to the World Cup in Sweden without him.
In 1959 Toth achieved the pinnacle of his club career when Csepel won the Hungarian league for the fourth and so far last time. Hence they qualified to compete in the European Cup’s fifth season.
Csepel were draw against Fenerbahce in the opening round. Toth missed the first leg in Turkey through injury but returned for the second leg. It was his only appearance in European club competition. The return was staged in the Nep Stadium but the grand stage was no help: Csepel led 1-0 and 2-1 before losing 3-2 in front of their own fans and being eliminated.
Toth retired a year later and had a brief, modest career as a coach before leaving the game behind.
In Toth’s original village of Mersevat a sports ground carries his name while he and Ujpest Dozsa defender Pal Varhidi were the subjects of a joint biography entitled The Forgotten Legends of the Golden Team.
István Tarlós, Mayor of Budapest where Toth was hailed as an honorary citizen in 2014, paid tribute to him for “exceptional club loyalty and exemplary human behaviour.”
Last weekend all matches in the Hungarian league marked his memory with a one-minute silence. It was, in a sense, a last tribute not only to Jozsef Toth but to all his long-gone team-mates.